Conference Review – Granada Institute 10th Anniversary Conference 4th-5th May 2006, IMI Conference Centre, Sandyford Road, Dublin 16

by Lena Lenehan

As part of their 10th Anniversary celebrations the Granada Institute held a two-day conference, which examined the ‘Good Lives’ model, a treatment program that uses a person-centred, holistic approach in the rehabilitation of people who sexually offend.  This model has been applied successfully in Australia, Britain, Canada and New Zealand.  The conference included national and international speakers all of whom work in the area of the prevention and treatment of child sexual abuse.  In this article I will endeavour to give an overview of the Good Lives model, outline how it is put into practice and highlight what clients have reported as their experience of the model.


Professor Tony Ward from Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand began the conference with a presentation of the Good Lives model entitled ‘promoting human goods and reducing risk’. He proposed that the ‘heart of this process in the construction of a more adaptive narrative identity and acquisition of capabilities to enable offenders to secure important values (goals) in the post release environment’.

The emphasis is on enabling the person to build resources to live their lives differently.  In working with people who sexually offend the aim in always to reduce risk, however it is recognised that punishment is a poor process that does not reduce re-offending rates.  Therefore in order to reduce risk to the community treatment should focus on reducing risk and incorporate a rehabilitation program that is tailored on people’s unique needs and problems.  The Good Lives model is a strength-based approach that is naturalistic and works with the social, physical and spiritual elements of a person’s life.

Professor Ward proposes that a good rehabilitation program should

  • Specify the most suitable style of treatment.
  • Inform therapists about the appropriate attitude to take towards offenders.
  • Address the issue of motivation.
  • Clarify the role and importance of the therapeutic alliance.

To this end it is very important that therapists should know their own attitude to offenders.  This highlights the need to see clients as more than their behaviour and to respect clients as human beings while viewing the abusive behaviour as utterly unacceptable.  The significance of the therapeutic alliance can not be over stated, as there is little hope of change if the client is not engaged in the process.

The Good Lives model identifies offenders as goal directed, i.e. they are looking for something, and it is not all about power and control.  There are many reasons why people offend such as the need for relatedness or connection or competence or autonomy, but offenders have developed counter productive ways to meets their needs or do not have the skills/opportunities to achieve goals.  Professor Ward believes that the concept of psychological well being; Good Lives, ‘should play a major role in determining the form and context of rehabilitation programs, alongside that of risk management’.


Practice implications of the Good Lives model sets out its major aim as to ‘equip offenders with skills, values, attitudes and resources necessary to lead a different life: personally meaningful and satisfying and one does not involve inflicting harm on children or adults’.

Therefore we need to focus on the person, to see the client as more than an offender and to take into account a person’s strengths, their environment and their needs.  The Good Lives model stresses continuity between ‘old you/new you’ and plays to a person’s strengths. The presentation noted how it is ‘essential to assess a client’s own goals, life priorities and his aims for the intervention’.

The focus is placed on what is the person’s primary goal and working with the client so that the goal is achieved in an adaptive and healthy manner.  An example was provided of an offender who worked as a tennis coach whose goal/need was for caring and teaching.  The treatment program developed with this client involved him teaching adult offenders.  This example illustrates the twin approach of focussing on enhancing self-esteem and identity while never ignoring risk.

In responding to the presentation, Professor Alan Carr of UCD University College Dublin) commented that the Good Lives model is not just about overcoming risk and addressing deficits, it is about working with offenders so that they no longer need to hurt others to feel okay about themselves.  He described how this model is grounded in empathy, connecting with that aspect of the client that is like us and on individual client needs and on thinking in a more integrated way about people, taking into account their individuality and their lifestyle.

A presentation by Dr Gerris Sarren, Rockwood Psychological Services, Ontario, Canada on ‘therapist characteristics and treatment changes in sexual offenders’ further illustrated the importance of the therapeutic relationship in working with offenders.  She noted how the Relapse Prevention model believes that a highly confrontational approach was required to elicit change.  This does not fit with psychotherapy, client change and motivation.  Dr Sarren outlined particular characteristics of a therapist that can enhance treatment effectiveness including empathy, warmth, directiveness, and use of humour, all of which promote comfort and trust.  Therapist characteristics that reduced treatment effectiveness included aggressive confrontation, lack of boundaries, criticism, sarcasm and being judgemental and being authoritarian.  In essence clients who do not feel respected in therapy are more likely to drop out of treatment.

Research notes that offenders are more motivated to participate in treatment if they come to a warm and supportive environment.  A balance is needed in this also, Dr Sarren reported that unconditional positive regard is not the way to go either and instead suggested that therapists develop a way to give feedback in a supportive way.

Granada Institute Treatment Program – client’s perspectives:

Niall Muldoon, Senior Clinical Psychologist at the Granada Institute presented his doctoral studies on the qualitative development of the model of practice at Granada.  In this he lists comments from clients in treatment there, highlighting its success.  Examples included:

  • ‘The vision, however portrayed in here, is that you can do better, you can be better, you can achieve more, you can understand yourself better’.

This research also provides the clients’ viewpoint on the importance of the therapeutic relationship.  One client said;

  • ‘They’re looking from the outside and they’re looking in a non-judgemental way…they’re not running you down, the fact that they’re supportive…that is very, very helpful for the simple fact that it’s encouragement rather than a negativity they’ve put forward’.

It may be said that the Granada Institute are putting the Good Lives model into practice and it is working and achieving results therein.

Personal response:

This conference was extremely well organised and presented.  In this article I have merely given an outline of some of the topics covered that stood out personally for me.  The material and workshops offered were very informative and provided food for thought.

As a therapist who works with women and men who have experienced sexual in childhood and/or as adults, it helped me to consider again the need to work with offenders and how much more change needs to happen in societal thinking to allow this to happen. I am fortunate to work in an organisation that also offers therapeutic support to offenders through its Perpetrator Assessment and Treatment Programme.  If we do not find constructive ways of working with offenders we will continue to work with the impact of sexual abuse and not address the cause of the issue.

I was left with a sense of hope after the two days and a more informed knowledge of a way of working with offenders that sits comfortably with me.  I think Professor Alan Carr highlighted an important aspect of the work also in recognising the shadow side i.e. ‘the reality that we all have the capacity to hurt others’.  I feel acknowledging this helps me to work with clients realistically and respectfully to promote change.

I will end with a quote from Professor Tony Ward;

We have been so busy looking/thinking about how to get rid of sexual crimes that we have overlooked a rather basic truth: offenders want better lives not simply the promise of less harmful ones!

Lena Lenehan is a psychotherapist working with One in Four.